Spangler nabs JFK podium after North Face cancellation

November 19, 2018

By Matias Saari, Alaska Sports Blog contributor 

Allan Spangler, right, with JFK runner-up Zach Miller, left and winner Jared Hazen, center.

Allan Spangler turned lemons into lemonade after the North Face 50-mile footrace near San Francisco was canceled due to wildfires in Northern California.

He promptly flew across the country and placed third at the JFK 50 in Maryland, the oldest ultramarathon in the United States.

And he did so despite knowing virtually nothing about the prestigious event.

“All I knew is that it was an old 50-miler and it was pretty competitive,” Spangler said by phone Monday from Las Vegas, Nev.

Online research revealed that the course included about 40 miles of exceedingly flat terrain on paved and gravel roads. This unnerved Spangler, who had been training on mountainous trails in the Western U.S. in preparation for the North Face event.

“I thought (JFK) was like a normal trail race,” Spangler said. “I immediately realized it was going to be a very painful last 35 miles.”

Tricky footing added to the challenge in the form of mud, slush and snow following a storm that hit the area a couple days earlier. One veteran of 31 JFK races said Saturday’s conditions were the worst he’d ever experienced there.

Spangler emerged from the opening 15 miles — most of it on the famous Appalachian Trail — in sixth place and feeling fine, but that didn’t last as the course switched to 26.3 miles on a canal towpath followed by eight miles of rolling roads.

“I was just really sore by mile 25. I was pretty worried,” he said.

His goal on making the top 3 seemed farfetched at the time.

But eventually the hot pace from the leaders backfired. Defending champion Eric Senseman dropped out and Spangler reeled in two others despite slowing down himself.

“I’m happy I just grinded it out and didn’t give up and start walking or something,” said Spangler.

After 6 hours and 48 seconds, a relieved Spangler was done. He achieved the 38th fastest time in the race’s 56-year history, earned a trophy, $400 in cash and a refund of his $300 entry fee. The only Alaskan to do better at JFK is former Eagle River resident Julie Udchachon, who placed 2nd in 2005 and still holds the 11th fastest female time ever.

Spangler unwound by visiting his sister in nearby Pennsylvania before flying back to Las Vegas. On Monday night, he and wife Nina Schwinghammer will fly to Ecuador before returning to Anchorage on Christmas Eve. The couple operate The Salmon Spot food truck in Juneau and enjoy traveling in the off-season.

Spangler, who also placed second at the Crow Pass Crossing and won the Equinox Marathon this season, wasn’t the only one to excel in the aftermath of the North Face cancellation.

Schwinghammer won the Valley of Fire Marathon in southeastern Nevada on Saturday while friends Cody Priest and Mariah Graham each claimed a 50K victory near Seattle.

“We were all pretty well prepared (in training),” Spangler said.